This post is a response to a request. I mention that because I'm not laying out a method or fool-proof recipe for bringing baby into worship. What I am doing is telling you some of the things we've done over the years with our five kids. Think of it as a list of tips.
A couple of years before we had our first child we'd settled on the idea that we wanted our kids in the worship service with us. That meant that we never had to make a family transition, which I understand can be difficult. Our kids have always been in the service. Our oldest in now ten, and for seven of those years we attended a church that was explicitly for the presence of children in its worship service, to the point that a "crying room" was the only thing provided for parents. Even now, at our current church, which not only offers childcare during the service but has all of its members volunteer in the nursery, there is a generally friendly atmosphere towards babies in the service. Years ago at our church in Florida, with the first two kids, and several families who were grumpy about the young families and their babies, we had a supportive session. I mention all this to say that in some situations it is genuinely tough to have young children and babies in worship, but we wouldn't know a lot about that.
Allow me to encourage some irenicism: if you think your elders or your congregation would have a really hard time with this, which would indeed be dumb of them, consider that it might not be worth the acrimony.
If that's the case, I encourage you to train your baby to be still and quiet during family devotions, so that when he is a toddler you can bring him into worship without strife. Although at many churches, there would be some raised eyebrows even at that.
Now, just to be clear, when I say "baby" in the context of this post I'm talking about babies who are no longer of a newborn "they'll just sleep at mom's bosom" age, but are not yet toddlers. You know, the kids who already have a strong will of their own, but an extremely limited and very loud way of communicating it.
|Here's my current project. Her name is Mara|
and she's 15 months old.
Anyhoo, on to the meat of the matter.
First, bring your baby into the worship service from the moment mom shows back up at church after the birth. As baby gets older and wigglier and squeakier, and as he is going through different phases (two of our kids went through happy screaming phases before they'd turned a year old), he should be able to recognize where he is. And I don't mean, of course, that he should understand that in corporate worship he is in Christ ascending into heavenly places with the entire assembly of the saints. I mean that as he becomes more aware, his tiny little mind should be thinking, "Hey, I know this place. This is that thing we do where all the people shout at once and then my siblings sit still for a while then all the people shout at once again."
Second, be realistic about seating. Seriously. Sit near an exit. The sound of children in the assembly should be a matter of rejoicing, but too many people (especially those pesky baby boomers) can be grumpy about the smallest squeak. Don't deceive yourself. Sometimes your baby will be legitimately disruptive. I don't say distracting, because that's too subjective. But your child will occasionally do something that disrupts the proceedings. Discreetly leave for a time.
Definitely don't be the guy who sits in the front center pew with his baby just because he has the "right".
Another advantage about sitting near an exit is that the other baby families will probably already be there. Does your sanctuary lack an informal baby section? Start one by sitting near another baby family. This can also be helpful to the overly sensitive worshiper, who can now go sit on the other side of the sanctuary, away from all the babies.
Third, do not reward your baby when you leave the sanctuary. By that I mean, don't let him think that if he squeaks a bit he'll get to run around and play in the narthex. Hold him until he settles down. Yes, it's more work. But if you don't do it, your kid will be constantly be trying to go where babies will naturally think it's more fun. And you'll be missing more of the worship service.
Fourth, encourage baby to sleep. You're not bringing baby into the worship service because he understands what's going on, or to be edified by the sermon. The reason we do it is to communicate non-verbally that he is part of God's people. He does the things God's people do. He does not remember not being a part of the sacred assembly. And this message is not just for baby, but for us, and for our other children.
So. It's okay if he sleeps. He'll fall asleep in the assembly, and wake in the assembly. And that's great.
Fifth, think about your family's internal seating arrangement. Come up with what works for you, of course, but we sit in a considered way. We sit near the aisle (for quick egress), with mom and baby at the aisle, then me, then the other kids. The others are laid out in whatever order I deem most salutary for them at the time. For example, the seven-year-old has been falling asleep every time during the sermon, so he sits next to me.
Our second-youngest is five, so all four of the other kids dote on Mara non-stop. They're always playing with her and entertaining her. So she sits on the other side of the kids, where she's less likely to be driven into a frenzy of giggling. We did this with the other kids too.
By the way, dads, this particular arrangement would mean that you're in charge of all the other kids so that mom can focus on the baby.
If we're going through a phase where we often have to take baby out of the sanctuary, I'll step in more often to take the baby out. Babies love being held by dad, but they're also always glad to be back in mom's arms. So baby's glad when you come back into the sanctuary. And, of course, it gives mom a break.
And may I suggest that you never put the baby down during the entire worship service. At least not until he's ready to sit still for several minutes at a time, which will mean he's hardly a baby anymore.
Sixth, don't go in and out constantly. This, in most churches, is really only important during the sermon. Our rule of thumb is that if we leave for a second time during the sermon, we stay out until it's over, and the people are being noisy again. It's less distracting that way. The other reason is that your baby will probably decide that getting up and going for a walk and sitting down and getting up and going for a walk and sitting down again is a lot of fun.
Seventh, be resigned to the labor. Bringing your child into the service is not a way for you to have your worship cake and eat it too. By that I mean, if you want to hear the sermon, put your kid in nursery. By training your child to participate in the worship service, you will be missing some of it. That's especially true of the mamas. My wife had to come to terms with that years ago. But the labor is worth the reward.
I hope these thoughts are helpful. If I missed anything you've learned over the years, or if you have specific questions, leave your comments below, and I'll be happy to respond.